Chocolate Can Kill (Emily Harris Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
Throughout much of my life, summer has meant two things – school was not in session and some sort of road trip.
Those of you who follow this blog will recall that early in my childhood our young family shared a duplex in Columbus, Ohio, that was known by its residents as The Double. Luckily for my sisters and me, the other side of this amazing abode was inhabited by our paternal grandmother and great-aunt. To say that we were spoiled by these two wonderful women would have been one of the World’s Greatest Understatements.
Our maternal grandmother, uncle, and great-grandmother lived in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and my earliest memory of travel involves our trips to visit them there. [On the Road] Greater adventures, though, still awaited me.
As the proud owners of a 2-toned blue, 1951 Pontiac, my parents were eager to take a real road trip, and for some reason that to this day completely escapes me they had decided to include me in their plans to visit New England. My younger sister, it had been agreed, would remain with our grandmother and great-aunt in the other side of The Double, where she would sleep on the rollaway bed in my grandmother’s bedroom.
For some reason, this arrangement appalled me. Not because of the rollaway bed, you understand. This semi-luxurious sleeping pallet provided unlimited afternoon naptime access to forbidden conversations on my grandmother’s party line phone. It was the whole idea of leaving my sister behind that seemed somehow wrong. This wasn’t some sort of castaway toy, after all. This was My Sister!
Father and Mother had carefully explained over dinner that my sister simply wouldn’t enjoy a trip, during which she would spend so much time confined in a car, while I had always been a good traveler. Guilt, of course, had washed over me. My sister’s abandonment was now somehow my fault.
After dinner, my parents remained in the kitchen to wash and dry the dishes. I sat at the dining room table working hard on my coloring book. My sister disappeared up the stairs as the sun set.
A few minutes later, I heard her return and pass behind me into the living room, where she did the unthinkable. She opened the front door and went out. The radio was playing in the kitchen as my parents talked, and they hadn’t heard.
I rushed to follow the miscreant and reached the darkened front porch just as my great-aunt opened the other side’s front door.
“I’ve runaway,” my sister announced calmly as she entered the other half of The Double, carrying her baby doll and a small cotton drawstring bag that contained its clothes with her.
I remember being quite impressed at the time. Neither of us had ever runaway before. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by the term. She certainly hadn’t run next door, and she wasn’t all that far away. Still, I went back inside and reported the circumstances to my parents, completely unprepared for the ensuing hullabaloo!
Since we were leaving early the following morning, it was finally decided that the runaway would remain where she was. Mother had already packed a small suitcase into which she now slipped my sister’s tooth and hair brushes. Father delivered these items, along with a full itinerary of our trip. I felt as if my sister had been swallowed up by a black hole. Real travel, I now understood, meant separation from all things familiar.
Still, the next morning dawned bright and sunny. My great-aunt came onto the front lawn and waved us off, but not before giving each of us a large hug and making Father promise to drive carefully. My sister, we were told, had been allowed to stay up a bit later than usual and was still sleeping.
We cleared the city easily and headed east as Mother began telling me about all of the marvelous places I would now see. Gradually, the thrill of adventure replaced my concerns for my sister.
I was too young to remember much of this trip, but a few experiences stand out in my memory. These were the days when you could still climb clear to the top of the Statue of Liberty. While I don’t recall the boat ride to the island, I do remember climbing behind Father for what seemed like forever.
I also remember my mother massaging my calves with rubbing alcohol the next morning. The smell reminded me of my grandmother. For a moment, guilt washed over me again at all of the special things my sister was missing, although she might not have enjoyed such a long climb, I convinced myself.
Stewed prunes were a special treat served on the other side of The Double, and my maternal grandmother always had a bottle of prune juice chilled in her fridge that she was willing to share with me. I recall vividly my Mother making it clear when we returned to the Pontiac after breakfast on the third day that she would prefer I not embarrass her by ordering prune juice every morning, although I didn’t completely understand her objection.
Perhaps concerned that they would be accused of forcing their firstborn to drink and eat nothing but prunes, my parents opted for us to breakfast on donuts and orange juice in the car the next morning by the shore of a lake. I can still see the mist rising above the cottontail reeds and the outline of what I was told was a loon.
Later that afternoon, as we approached my father’s cousin’s house in Connecticut, a car came over a hill behind us and was unable to stop fast enough as both of our vehicles approached a red light up ahead. I had been taking a nap on the back seat, and several cans of Howard Johnson’s Clam Chowder that my mother had purchased after lunch tumbled down on me, one of them leaving a small bump on my head. Traveling, I learned at this early age, did not come without risk.
There being no damage to the car, which unlike me was built like a tank, we continued blissfully on our way, arriving at Uncle R and Aunt D’s house just before dinner.
My cousin S was waiting in the driveway, which was pretty spectacular – both because this was my only known cousin, who I had not previously met, and because the house had a driveway. That she was allowed to play with her ball on this bit of what looked to me like a street was truly marvelous.
Then, wonder of wonders, Uncle R threw open the glass doors to a fully stocked bar in their oversized living room, revealing colorfully labeled bottles and glistening glassware. There was even a small silver bucket filled with ice. I now knew that we had arrived at a castle, and my nearly teetotaler mother’s shocked expression only added to my excitement. When, with great gusto, Uncle R served me a Shirley Temple complete with two maraschino cherries that still had their stems on them, I knew that I had indeed died and gone to Heaven!
Two days later, we returned home, our heads filled with sights, sounds, and new memories. As soon as the car stopped my father popped open the Pontiac’s trunk and began unloading our luggage. My sister, who had been waiting with our grandmother and great-aunt on their side of the divided front porch, ran down the stairs to greet us, seemingly unharmed by our absence, and Mother hurried us both inside our half and upstairs for a bath.
Later that evening as I headed to bed slightly later than my sister, I tripped over something at the foot of my bed in the dark. Fumbling along the floor, I discovered the cotton drawstring bag containing my sister’s baby doll’s clothes. My sister, it seemed, had completely returned to our side of The Double.
A few moments later, I snuggled beneath the crisp sheets on my own bed for the first time in a week, a little glad and a little sad. Sites visited beyond The Double had proven to be pretty special, but having us all back together under one roof, made this still the best place in the whole world.
Murder With My Darling (Bonnie Lou Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
Also available for NOOK!
A Tired Older Woman: Loses Weight and Keeps It Off! by Annie Acorn
Also available for NOOK!
When to Remain Silent (Annie Acorn’s Kindle Short Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
Also available for NOOK!